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Tulsa's Gilcrease Museum continues repatriation efforts with return of ancestral remains to tribes

The exterior of the Gilcrease Museum.
The exterior of the Gilcrease Museum.

The Gilcrease Museum is returning ancestral remains to tribes.

The museum’s board of trustees voted Tuesday morning to give back the remains of Ponca Native Americans to their respective lands in Oklahoma and Nebraska. The move falls in line with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

The museum — which is run through the city and the University of Tulsa — periodically sends these requests for repatriation to city council for full approval.

Laura Bryant, who coordinates these returns for the museum, said repatriation is about returning items that “should never have ended up in museums.”

"For the last about six to eight years is about when we’ve been particularly active, and since then, we’ve repatriated a large number of ancestors and cultural items, and we’re happy to be working with our tribal partners," said Laura Bryant, who oversees the process for the museum.

Passed in 1990, the Graves Protection and Repatriation Act orders museums to return "Native American human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony," according to the National Park Service.

Bryant says many institutions have recently started to return artifacts protected by the federal law.

"Most tribes, especially in Oklahoma, have a tribal historic preservation officer, or a NAGPRA representative, that we work directly with, who works within their government office. And so we work with those representatives to have these conversations and review those items to make those determinations within the law," Bryant said.

The Gilcrease Museum is currently closed for renovation. Tulsans approved the final dollars for renovation with the passage of Improve Our Tulsa 3.

This report was produced by the Oklahoma Public Media Exchange, a collaboration of public media organizations. Help support collaborative journalism by donating at the link at the top of this webpage.

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